By Bailey Putnam, deputy sports editor
After struggling against the top-ranked Providence College Friars, the Northeastern University (NU) men’s hockey team got its bearings overseas during Thanksgiving break. The team dropped a heartbreaker overtime decision to No. 4 University of Massachusetts (UMass) Lowell before routing Colgate University 7-1 in the consolation game of the Friendship Four tournament in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Northeastern (2-11-2) was joined by UMass, Colgate and Brown University in the four-day event at Odyssey Arena in Belfast, marking the first time in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) hockey history that any teams have faced off outside the US.
A week before the trip, the Huskies dropped a 5-2 decision at Providence and were blanked at home by the NCAA champion Friars the following night. Following the 3-0 loss at Matthews Arena, Head Coach Jim Madigan noted the upcoming trip across the Atlantic provided the team a unique opportunity to snap out of its ongoing struggles.
“There’s no distractions,” Madigan said. “School will be out of session for the holiday break and [we’ll go from] the rink to the hotel. The team will do some educational outreach programs, but it’s just going to be us, and it will be good to get away.”
The change of scenery proved to serve the Huskies well, as they put forward two of their most impressive outings of the season, notching nine goals in two games and finally breaking their winless streak.
Northeastern stood toe-to-toe with Hockey East powerhouse UMass in the first round, leading 2-1 in the third period but eventually losing in overtime.
After a scoreless first period, the Huskies struck first early in the second frame when sophomore forward Nolan Stevens netted a power-play tally off a feed from sophomore forward Dylan Sikura.
The UMass River Hawks fired back late in the period with a power-play goal of their own, beating freshman goaltender Ryan Ruck with a one-timer from the point and tying up the score at 1-1 before the intermission.
The Huskies were dominant in the third period, outshooting the Hawks 9-2 and burying a go-ahead goal five minutes in to set the tempo. The goal was set up by senior defenseman Jarrett Fennell, who sent junior forwards Brendan Collier and Ryan Rosenthal up the ice on a two-on-one with a breakout pass down the Olympic-size sheet. Collier drew the UMass defenseman and sent the puck over to his linemate Rosenthal, who buried past the extended left leg of the River Hawk goalie.
Northeastern had several opportunities to increase its lead through the rest of the period, but despite open looks, breakaways and trickling pucks in the crease, the goals never came.
The missed chances came back to bite NU when, with one minute left in regulation, UMass notched the tying the goal to force overtime.
The River Hawks acted quickly in the extra period, delivering the finishing blow just over a minute into the frame when junior defenseman Dylan Zink potted his second of the outing. UMass went on to tie Brown in the tournament final.
Despite the loss, the Huskies rolled the momentum from the UMass game into the consolation game against Colgate, which the Huskies beat in their season opener in October.
The NU offense erupted, pouring in five goals in the second period. Leading up to the win, the Huskies had yet to play a full game in which they scored more than four times.
Collier, Rosenthal and senior forward Mike McMurtry paved the way offensively, accounting for four of Northeastern’s seven goals.
“It was nice,” Collier said of his line’s breakout performance. “We play hard all week and practice how we want to play in the games. [Rosenthal] and [McMurtry] go up and down [the ice] just as fast as anyone on the team, and they open a lot of space. [McMurtry] made a great play and all night we made plays.”
Junior forward Zach Aston-Reese tacked on two of his own, getting things started in the first period with a deflection goal.
Colgate was able to even the game at 1-1 by the end of the first, but the scoring stopped there for the Raiders, and the Huskies got to work in the second period.
Collier led the charge on the onslaught, deking the Colgate goaltender out of position and sneaking the puck between his legs. During the same shift, Rosenthal buried another one less than 30 seconds later, battling beside the net for a rebound goal.
It took just over three minutes before Collier was back on the board, this time in spectacular fashion. He took a pass on the doorstep, spun 360 degrees to the front of the crease and slipped the puck past the sprawling Raider goaltender for a highlight-reel goal.
An Aston-Reese rebound goal late in the frame gave the Huskies a commanding 5-1 lead heading into the third period. Nolan Stevens joined in on the action in the final stanza, taking a pass from his brother, junior forward John Stevens, and roofing a shot for a bar-down tally.
McMurtry put the game to rest in the waning minutes of regulation, joining his linemates with a goal of his own – his first of the season.
“Overall, the weekend was just tremendous,” Madigan said at the conclusion of the tournament. “We established an identity over the weekend and something that we’re looking to launch us back home to Boston.”
The tough competition will continue to pile on when Northeastern takes on Boston College in a home-and-home series this weekend.
Photo by Justine Newman